We are so small. Yesterday, I ventured up to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, to check out the Hudson River School painters’ works at the Atheneum Museum in St. Johnsbury. After walking into the beautiful old brick library and weaving around gorgeous wooden shelves and spiral staircases, I was faced with an entire wall canvassed with the sublime landscape of The Domes of Yosemite by Albert Bierdstadt. Looking at the painted canvas, my eyes moved from rock to water, peak to valley, and tree to open sky. It made me feel distanced and small. The intricate and intimate details of rock fractures and edges; rugged tree tops struck by lighting and those still lush and leafy; unruly waters flowing down falls; and wide open terrain weaving through massive outcrops of earth – all so clearly detailed by the stroke of a brush, it all put shame to my relationship to nature. But, this relief moved me, moved me to want to see and adventure into what’s left of our wilderness. The sublime, it calls us, so adventure I did.
I ended the day on a gorgeous semi-frozen lake, Lake Willoughby, which is about 5 miles wide and 300 feet deep. After gawking at insane geology and basking in 65 degree weather alongside sweet friends, I thought of the Domes, of the lake, of the natural world, and us. I thought of just how small we are, how much we do not know.
In a society where we spend 90% of our time indoors, in front of screens and running laps in the mental mazes we’ve both created and succumbed to, it’s not surprise we think ourselves omnipotent. If you were taken somewhere blindfolded, and once the blindfold was removed, could you tell which direction was north/south based on the position of the sun? Could you determine what the soils are like? What about closer to home — Can you name 3 plans within walking distance and two useful outputs for them?
If these questions seem hard, contrast them with navigating iPhone’s latest iOS, or using an ATM machine. What do we conceive of as hard? Easy? Common? These mind mazes of our daily lives are common, but they are not natural. We have become unnatural beings in an increasingly unnatural world. But there is still a lot of goodness and much hope for preserving what’s left – through each adventure, each awakening, each reminder, because truly, life is the greatest teacher. Each plant’s name learned, each organism’s function understood in the grander ecological system, and each layer of understanding developed of our relationship with the environment, is progress forward. Hope for reconciliation and preservation is not lost – it cannot be, but we must do our best and help others to access the information and experiences that our mind mazes have excluded from so many. We must, too, remind ourselves of just how small we are, because truly, Mother Nature is the finally arbiter.
I found peace yesterday, and in trying everyday, to remind myself that we are so small in this glorious gift of creation. Humility, a reminder we all need.